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Thread: Mendelssohn Chamber Music

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    Default Mendelssohn Chamber Music

    Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) composed many interesting and good chamber music.
    There are eight string quartets, two string quintets, one string octet, two piano trios, four piano quartets, two cello sonatas, one violin sonata, one clarinet sonata and even more.

    Some works I want to point out explicitly:

    The first masterpieces of Mendelssohn are his piano quartet b minor op. 3 and his string octet E flat major op. 20. The second work often is called “Mendelssohns first stroke of genius” (he was sixteen) and indeed this work for doubled string quartet really is genius. But IMO the piano quartet he composed some month earlier is on the same level.
    Both works are unbelievable mature and show that Mendelssohn was THE “Wunderkind” in composing, not Mozart (what Mozart composed at the age of 16 has not this quality). They contain a great richness of inspiring melodies, finesse and magnificent sound.
    The two most interesting movements are the last of op. 3 with his dark atmosphere and Beethoven-like climax and the first of op. 20 with his friendly, almost orchestral celebration of joyous music.

    Two years later Mendelssohn again raised his level – for the last time: IMO this level he topped never and only reached it sometimes again. I speak about the string quartet a minor op. 13. Mendelssohn (at the age of 18!!) seemed to be the only contemporary composer who understood the late string quartets of Beethoven and knew how to handle with this heritage.
    This quartet is more or less concrete inspired by Beethoven’s a minor quartet op. 132 (at least the first and last movement) and like Beethoven Mendelssohn used the string quartet to experiment with musical forms and sound, from retrospective polyphonic and classic components to “new tones”.

    Mendelssohn’s last (greater) work is his string quartet f minor op. 80. He composed this work after the shock of his sister’s death hit him vehemently and he mourning retired from the public. And in this weeks of mourning (and fury?) about the early death of his beloved sister Fanny and the premonition of his own death (he seemed to have given up his love of life) he composed this string quartet. It is a radical, highly emotional work, in its fatalistic behaviour comparable to nothing Mendelssohn composed before. It’s a first and last great eruption of Mendelssohn’s untamed (mostly negative) emotion which makes the listener wonder: This really is Mendelssohn?
    O.K., Adorno’s statement of “Mendelssohn’s icy classicism” just isn’t true, Mendelssohn’s music showed emotions even before, but not like in his opus ultimus.
    Some weeks after the completion of the work, Mendelssohn suffered a apoplexy and died after some days in coma.

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    Senior Member Morigan's Avatar
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    I must say I'm only familiar with Mendelssohn's most famous works, but your post was really interesting and I think I'm going to buy some recordings very soon. Thank you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Morigan View Post
    I must say I'm only familiar with Mendelssohn's most famous works, but your post was really interesting and I think I'm going to buy some recordings very soon. Thank you.

    If decide to explore the String Quartets, these are the ones I have that are highly rewarding:

    Talich/Calliope/3cd set
    Eroica/Period Instruments/Harmonia Mundi/3 volumes
    Coull/Hyperion/3cd set
    Pacifica/Cedille/3cd set
    Henschel/Arte Nova/3cd set
    Ysaye/Decca/3cd set
    Emerson/DG/4 cdset w/Octet
    Aurora/Naxos/3 volumes
    Leipzig/MDG/4 volumes
    Cherubini/EMI Encore/3 volumes
    Mosaiques/Period Instruments/Naive/single disc

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    Quote Originally Posted by Don View Post
    If decide to explore the String Quartets, these are the ones I have that are highly rewarding:

    Emerson/DG/4 cdset w/Octet
    This is the set that I have. And yes, it includes the terrific Octet. The first movement of the Octet is magnificent!!! It is amazing that it was composed when Felix was 16.

    Emerson String Quartet played all 8 instruments (double string quartet) for the Octet. There is a video describing how they recorded the Octet on the CD. (But I haven't yet looked at it).

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Thanks for the write-up, Amade. I am not familiar(in the sense that I have not heard them more than a couple of times), but this article is a nice introduction.

    I once saw this CD at a store, but didn't buy it.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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    Quote Originally Posted by Morigan View Post
    I must say I'm only familiar with Mendelssohn's most famous works, but your post was really interesting and I think I'm going to buy some recordings very soon. Thank you.
    Aaah...it works!
    Nice to read!

    I should add some good valued and good performed recordings of the mentioned works:

    There are some good midprice complete recordings of the string quartets; e.g. the Talich Quartet (Calliope, 3 CDs) surely is a good tip.

    For the octet (and the quintets) I can recommend the Hausmusik-Ensemble (Virgin Veritas, 2 CDs).

    The piano quintet is recorded well by the Bartholdy (!) Piano Quartet on Naxos.

    @ Don: I'm impressed by your list. Do you know all these recordings... or do you have all in your CD-shelf?
    Can you please say a bit about your favourite recordings?
    I'm interested in your opinion about the two period instrument recordings and the Emerson CDs.

    Regards,
    AVH.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amade Van Haydn View Post
    Aaah...it works!
    Nice to read!

    I should add some good valued and good performed recordings of the mentioned works:

    There are some good midprice complete recordings of the string quartets; e.g. the Talich Quartet (Calliope, 3 CDs) surely is a good tip.

    For the octet (and the quintets) I can recommend the Hausmusik-Ensemble (Virgin Veritas, 2 CDs).

    The piano quintet is recorded well by the Bartholdy (!) Piano Quartet on Naxos.

    @ Don: I'm impressed by your list. Do you know all these recordings... or do you have all in your CD-shelf?
    Can you please say a bit about your favourite recordings?
    I'm interested in your opinion about the two period instrument recordings and the Emerson CDs.

    Regards,
    AVH.
    I don't think there are great differences among the versions I listed. What I like best about the period instrument recordings are the minimal vibrato and simply the sound of the strings along with compelling changes in tempo. The Emersons are a marvel of ensemble team-work. I also have a very warm spot for the Aurora on Naxos with an intensity level greater than other groups I've heard in this repertoire.

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    I happen to listen to the 3rd SQ, I think for the first time. It was wonderful.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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    I've listened to Mendelssohn for years and would like to purchase a copy of his complete string quartets, of which there are now many interpretations. I read a review here:
    http://www.musicweb-international.co...omparative.htm

    It seems that the Henschel 3-disc set is an affordable and highly recommended interpretation. In trying to find it, I noticed that one can buy the individual cds from Amazon.com for about $7.99 a piece, but the complete set (as a set) is no longer available (except as an MP3). This summer I found one copy available from a vendor in England, but the postage was too much and I thought that I'd be happy enough just buying them individually. However, if you read the above review closely--more closely than I did originally--the compilation includes an extra, the String Quartet in E flat major (1823).

    The reason for my writing is twofold: i. to ask if someone might have or know someone who has this box set for sale or loan; and ii. if there are other versions to recommend more highly, please let me know.

    Here's a list of the ones I've been able to come up with, not all of which are complete. I've indicated those with an asterisk that I know (there may be others?) to be available in complete formats (ie. include the Quartet for String in E flat major (1823;no opus number):

    Alban Berg, EMI
    Arriaga, Pavane
    Artis, Universal
    Aurora, *Naxos
    Bartholdy, *Arts Music
    Bartholdy, Pilz/Acanta
    Cherubini, EMI
    Coull, Hyperion
    Elias, ASV
    Emerson, *DG
    Eroica, HM
    Gabrieli, Chandos
    Gewandhaus, *NCA
    Gewandhaus & Sharon, *Brilliant Classics
    Hausmusik, Vigrin
    Henschel, Arte Nova
    Leipzig, *MDG
    Mannheimer, CPO
    Melos, *DG
    Pacifica, *Cedile
    Talich, *Calliope
    Vogler, Haenssler
    Ysäye, Decca

    I welcome your feedback and would be especially indebted if someone could point me to where the Henschel box set is available. T

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    Piano Trio No. 1 <3

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    Mendelssohn is one of my favorite chamber composers.

    The Octet is of course a favorite of just about everybody, and rightly so. It tends to overshadow the two marvelous String Quintets, one an early and one a late work. All three are collected on a two-fer from Virgin, performed by the period group Hausmusik.




    The Piano Trios are also wonderful, particularly #1--I think I have listened to them at least once a week for the last two years. My favorite recording is the Gould Trio on Naxos.



    The six or seven (depends how you count 'em) String Quartets are, for my money, the greatest quartets written between the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert and Brahms's Op. 51 pair in the 1870s. The brilliant Op. 13 (with its echoes of Beethoven's Op. 132) and dark Op. 80 (with echoes of Beethoven's Op. 95) have already been mentioned, but I also like Op. 12 (with echoes of Beethoven's Op. 74) and the three Op. 44 quartets, although it seems to me these last three are somewhat in the quatuor brilliant style--that is, in the outer movements especially, the first violin often takes the role of concert soloist "accompanied" by string trio--and I prefer the voices of a quartet to be more equal. The best bargain, and an excellent cycle, is the Cherubini Quartet.



    Beyond this, there's also the Piano Sextet, a relatively early work with a deceptively high opus number, scored for piano and the unusual string lineup of vn, 2 vas, vc and cb. It is sometimes coupled on CD with the octet or Schubert's Trout quintet. Here's the one I have:

    Last edited by Hausmusik; May-19-2012 at 22:58.

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    Yes! The String Quintets are underrated works of delightful inventiveness and varied sonority. Mendelssohn shows us the many, almost orchestral, effects that can be created by a string ensemble when rightly treated.

    The piano quartets are youthful but vigorous, the second in F Minor is my personal favorite.

    The piano sextet in D Major isn't a very substantial work: delightful and wispy but without great weight.

    Of especial interest is the "Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81", all of the movements of which are extraordinary. The theme of the first movement has a very personal and reflective melancholy, while the several following variations are primarily melodic variations [the harmony remains largely unchanged]. The second movement, the Capriccio, is in E Minor; it is a work of relatively calm worry, a moderate turbulence and unsettledness. The Scherzo is in A Major: rollicking and up-tempo, it is a fine example of Mendelssohn's famous scherzi! The finale movement is a Fugue in E Flat Major, it has an otiose subject, and as far as the whole piece is concerned, it is the weakest movement.

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    I like his chamber works a lot. In addition to the octet, st. quartets (plus the aforementioned four pieces), st. quintets and trios I have the two cello sonatas. Taken as a whole, I prefer Mendelssohn's chamber output to that of Schumann's.

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    It has already been mentioned by others but the 2nd quintet is really wonderful, it´s a pity Mendelssohn died so young because in this work (as in the SQ opus 80) you hear a different musician, if I try to compare I will say he was less Mozart and more Schubert (or even Schumann at some moments)

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    What I own:

    String Quintets - Raphael Ens. (Hyperion)
    Piano Quartet, Op. 3 - Alikhanov/Moscow SQ (Melodiya)
    String Quartets Opp. 12 & 13 - Juilliard SQ (Sony)
    String Quartet, Op. 80 - Miro Qt. (Oxingale)
    Piano Trios 1 & 2 - KLR Trio (VOX)
    Cello Sonatas, etc. - Meneses & Wyss (Avie)

    Others I can recommend:

    String Quartets (Complete) - Henschel Qt. (Arte Nova)
    Piano Trios 1 & 2 - Swiss Piano Trio (Audite )
    Last edited by Vaneyes; Jan-17-2013 at 20:38.

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